WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump tried anew to reach out to young people following his much criticized speech to the Boy Scouts this week, his words connected with a daughter of Nigerian immigrants sitting in the crowd.
Trump congratulated the high school-aged participants in the American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation and American Legion Boys Nation leadership programs on their scholastic achievements.
“Never quit. Never give up — always do what you love,” the president told the gathering in the Rose Garden on Wednesday.
“He believes in us and all the work that we put our hearts to,” Osaretin Ogbeide said.
The child of Nigerian immigrants, Ogbeide hopes to learn more about the American political system and, maybe, one day be a part of government.
Topics such as lowering the cost of living and education around health — specifically the opioid epidemic — are at the top of her list of changes.
“I want them to get the help that they need, to get the best education, to be aware of the rights that they have and liberties that are granted to them,” said Ogbeide, one of 100 state “senators” the American Legion Auxiliary sent to the national conference in Washington, D.C. this past week.
The young women attended senate sessions, learned about the creation of and debated diverse bill topics and polished their campaigning skills.
The girls created bills and resolutions including the Equal Service Act — which ensures that all persons are required to register and be included in the U.S. Select Service System. They also worked on measures that support veterans.
Alumni from the program include Kristen Soltis Anderson, an American pollster named on TIME magazine’s 30 Under 30 Changing the World; U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the first woman to lead the U.S. Air Force Academy; Jane Pauley, a TV journalist; Susan Bysiewicz, the former Connecticut secretary of state; Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas; and Susan Porter-Rose, former chief of staff to First Lady Barbara Bush.
Ogbeide, or “Oti” as she likes to be called, hopes to join their ranks.
“I think the girls who come to this program are informed. Whether or not we are in the [political] climate ... these are cream of the crop from each state. And they take it upon themselves to be knowledgeable about what’s going on around the world,” said Kristen Baker-Geczy, a spokeswoman with the organization.
Ogbeide’s desire to lead in her community stems from her family’s message: if you want to see change, you have got to take part in it.
Twenty years ago, Ogbeide’s parents — a tourism and hospitality professor and a nurse — immigrated to the United States from Nigeria.
“They found each other, fell in love and began their start,” in the land of the free, Ogbeide said.
“My dad came here literally with 20 dollars in his pocket,” she said adding that her parents stressed the importance of a strong work ethic.
“My parents were very traditional,” Ogbeide said adding that they taught her to pound yams and make a soup called Egusi. “They wanted us to have a western upbringing but not forget where we came from.”
Ogbeide saw first-hand the challenges and adversity her parents faced toward gaining a better education and standard of living.
“To me being a first generation American is to combine both what your family has come from and also what you learned in America to combine those to become the best person you can be,” Ogbeide said.
Ogbeide said she was surprised to find she had so much in common with young women from across the country who have similar hopes and aspirations.
“I see all this passion, straight passion for policy, for government. I am not looking at you for how much money you make, how much money your family makes,” she said. “The color of your hair or your eye color or your skin color, the way that you speak, the way that you walk or your body.”
CORRECTION (July 29, 2:40 p.m.): An earlier version of this article's headline misstated the audience for Trump's speech. He delivered it to the American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation and American Legion Boys Nation, not the Boy Scouts.